Museums do not represent neutrality.
Museums are not, and have never been, neutral, contrary what many people believe. Although museums can provide valuable education, the consumer should realize that information rarely remains neutral. It is the message that informs how the information is conveyed. This was most evident during my 2020 Vietnam visit to museums.
The Vietnamese people have endured a lot. In the past century, more than one nation has invaded, dominated or destroyed their country. The country is still recovering and it will take generations to heal the physical and mental scars. The museums of Vietnam are one way that the Vietnamese can share their important stories with the rest. My experience in Vietnamese museums left a bad taste in my mouth. They were so provocative and un-neutral, it made it difficult to enjoy my museum experience.
One example is Ho Chi Minh’s War Remenants Museum. This museum is a history of the Vietnam War. The original name of this museum leaves no doubt about its intent. It was an exhibit that showed the atrocities in American behavior during Vietnam War. This made it difficult for anyone to see. While I don’t think it is wrong for America to be held accountable in Vietnam or to hide the worst aspects of Vietnam War, it was difficult to view an entire museum showing the atrocities committed by one nation. Similar to other Vietnam museums I visited, this one highlighted the extraordinary courage of Vietnamese people. It also shared photos and stories of them that otherwise might not have been. It was at times strange that this praise came across as praising the Vietnamese for not only their survival, but also their ability and willingness to kill American soldiers.
A tour leader showed us a video of the history and construction of the Chu Chi Tunnels. It was hard to watch despite the happy, Disneyesque music and cheerful narration. The sad footage described how young Chu Chi girls had murdered many American soldiers. Different young girls were featured for their tricks, trappings and killing of American soldiers. Some of them were awarded medals for being “American Soldier Killers”. They spoke with pride about the dedication of these children to killing their foes.
This attitude was strengthened when I visited the Vietnamese Women’s Museum at Hanoi. One exhibition focuses on women’s participation in the Vietnamese War. This museum was great at highlighting individual girls. They had photos and descriptions of what they did, something I haven’t seen before with male Vietnamese troops. But again, the museum seemed to be proud of these girls for being able to kill and didn’t seem too sad about their loss. I will say this: I disagree with glorifying the killing of innocents. However, I appreciate the respect shown these girls. Many titles and awards, such as Heroines in the People’s Armed Forces’, are given to them.
While I love the stories of these young women, I feel a more peaceful and nuanced tone is needed. Instead of emphasizing the brutality that their children suffered during war, it would be better to focus on building a better future.